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Expert opinion

“Mum, I promise I’m going to do something to fix type 1.”

Introducing Alice, a researcher linked to JDRF who recently marked her 10-year diaversary. Here, she tells us how having type 1 benefits her work and why we should all care about research.

Dr Alice Carr, type 1 diabetes researcher stood in front of a living wall of foliage and smiling at the camera

I was always interested in diabetes

I first learned about diabetes in school. I remember being surprised that we’ve known about type 1 diabetes for over a hundred years, yet patients must still give themselves insulin to survive. I was curious about why that might be, even though I was only 15 at the time and didn’t have diabetes.

Why not me?

I already had an interest in medical research when I found myself in hospital aged 17 diagnosed with type 1. I remember sitting in that hospital bed with my mum. She was very sad about it and didn’t understand. She said: “Why have you got it? Why do people get it?” And I said: “Well, why not me? I’m interested in this, and I promise I’m going to do something to fix it.” From that moment I dedicated my career to becoming a scientific researcher.

I want people to be aware of type 1

It started with one promise to my mum. She isn’t a scientist, so I had to help her understand. I’m incredibly invested in showing that science isn’t complex and inaccessible. Advocating for people with type 1 is also hugely important to me and making those without diabetes aware of this invisible disability. I want people to understand that, while type 1 doesn’t hold us back, I’m always thinking about a hundred different diabetes-related things.

Patients are crucial to research

It’s difficult to understand what it’s like to have type 1. That’s why getting patients’ perspectives is crucial. It helps guide research questions. The people with the disease you’re trying to cure are the best people to ask what they want from the science.

Having type 1 benefits my research

I think being a researcher with type 1 diabetes gives me a different perspective. I have a different view on life and what’s important – specifically, what’s important within research. It helps me interpret data differently. When I analyse data from continuous glucose monitors, the readings are more than just numbers to me. I can feel what the patient is experiencing and the quality of life that goes along with it.

I think it’s incredible how the pancreas works

My favourite fact is that when someone without type 1 even just looks at food, it triggers their pancreas to start making insulin. It won’t release this insulin until the person eats, but their body makes it so that it’s ready for when their blood glucose rises. The body is absolutely amazing.

Science underpins our lives

Without research, we wouldn’t even have insulin. We wouldn’t be alive. I believe people with type 1 should care about the research that impacts them. I understand people with type 1 may get frustrated hearing a cure is on the horizon, but we must remember that science doesn’t happen in a day. So, continually funding research gives us the potential to keep improving the lives of people with type 1 and ultimately cure it.

My research is closely linked to JDRF

I’m moving to Canada to work in the Alberta Diabetes Institute, which hosts many researchers funded by JDRF. There I’ll be trying to understand what the best level of functioning is for the insulin-producing cells and how best to measure it. This is really important to understand for when we research ways to treat or even prevent type 1 diabetes. During my PhD, my supervisors were funded by JDRF, and I helped with their projects. I also work on data that is JDRF-funded, so JDRF is vital for my research.

Type 1 is a huge part of who I am

Although it would be amazing to have a cure that makes me no longer have type 1, it’s a huge part of who I am. While it doesn’t define me, my whole life is now dedicated to type 1 diabetes research. It guided me down the route I am on and my career. I’m really thankful for it.

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